Six on Saturday: Spring?

A damp and grey Saturday after the bluest of blue sky periods. The warmth and extra light of the last few weeks has brought everything on at full pelt. The narcissus are jostling with the tulips which have arrived all of a sudden together with the fast growing leaves of the allium. It all feels a bit dizzying, but the return to seasonal weather now might slow the moment down.

This week’s six is starting off with the self seeders and multipliers which do my work for me and give me plants for free; though not always in the right place, most often they know where suits better than me. First is the shade tolerant, perky Geranium Bill Wallis, with its small and lovely purple flowers. I’ve grown it from seed again, but the self sown versions are bigger and stronger and ready to take over the path where it prefers growing through the stones. I would step around it, but as no one else will, it has been uprooted and potted up ready to be moved.

Bill Wallis happily growing through the stones

Next are the hellebores growing just outside the kitchen window which are slowly but determinedly colonising the bed. It has taken years from a few original plants, but they have increased year on year and will soon have taken over all the shady margins.

Hellebores mixing

Third are is the gentle yellow, cheering primrose which has taken a liking to the middle of the East facing bed. Starting off from one there are now lots and maybe this is the year I finally remember to divide and lift them.

Primrose and cerinthe (another self seeder)

Fourth spot goes to the most prolific self seeder of all: the blue forget me not which never truly goes away despite my partner’s stealthy weeding of them. I love them in their prime as a sea of blue and forgive them their scruffiness at other times. Early days in the garden, I was worried they would get weeded to extinction – now realise that is close to impossible. Good.

Before too long there will be blue

Next are just some of the seeds sown by me growing on window sills, greenhouse shelves and just emerging on the heating mat. Peas, tomatoes and flowers.

Last is the quince tree in the corner of the garden lighting up a dank morning with its sparkle of green buds.


That’s it, but over at The Propagator there is sure to be lots of interest.

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Six on Saturday: catching up

The unexpected gift of a warm and sunny fortnight means I should be way ahead or at least on top of my gardening. After all, it is still only February. But even after a whole week off work, it is hard not to notice the number of plants needing to be planted. So a quick six while the morning is still misty and before I knuckle down and catch up. As always, lots of interesting sixes to be found via The Propagator

First up are the 3 pretty cyclamen coum which happened to find their way into my trolley when buying compost earlier this week. They were stranded in the van and are now losing patience on the step still waiting to go into the shady border. Today for sure.

Cyclamen coum

Next are the ranunculus, not sure which variety now, but bought in bulk and planted up in pots in late Autumn. They are also still waiting to be planted in the earth and are destined for the plot where I grow my cut flowers.

Ranunculus needing more space

Third are the anemones which happily are planted in mushroom crates – their final destination. They have been sheltering in the greenhouse over the Winter, but are now getting some fresh air in the open (because it’s broken) cold frame. Looking forward to their blue loveliness.

Anenomes unfurling

Blue loveliness sums up the attraction of Echinops ritro which has the brightest of blue flowers and is a magnet for butterflies and bees. Clumps of it have spread thicker at the allotment and in the Autumn they were ready to be divided. My north facing garden is not as good a home for it, but hoping it which catch enough sun at the back to survive.

Echinops looking ready for Spring

Number 5 is also a job which needs doing today and that is to plant up the hazel, wild rose and spindle whips bought to plant around the fences to support wildlife, particularly birds, butterflies and bees. Didn’t need persuading that this is important, but the excellent ‘The Bumblebee Flies Anyway’ by Kate Bradbury gave me a reminder and an extra push and focus.

Much more than a bag of sticks

Last of all is a recent discovery which, like Kate Bradbury’s book, has made me think more and more about how much I want to make the garden wildlife friendlier. Awake early, but not ready to get up, the wonderful podcast, Growing Wild presented by Charlotte Petts eased me into the day  

growing wild

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A Greenhouse Six

It has been a long time since life was calm enough for a Saturday Six and to warm up gently for the rest of the year’s efforts, this one is focused inside and under cover.

The rain and wind have been blustering and rolling around the greenhouse for days; inside, though dry and still, it is definitely not warm. No real encouragement then to spend much time inside it sowing seeds or potting on. There seems to be more of a need for the latter than I had realised as Autumn sown seedlings are quietly outgrowing their pots.

Number 1: Autumn sown Antirrhinum potomac ivory

The late Summer cuttings are also needing to be moved on into their own (or bigger) pots and there have been surprisingly few casualties considering the dramatic drops in temperature.

Number 2 are the cuttings of Jamaican Primrose which have all taken despite the slapdash way I treated the cuttings – taking them late and just poking them into multi purpose compost. They were my favourite plant of all last year and am looking forward to planting a ribbon of them through my garden this year. They are tender, but are extremely long flowering- even coping with some light early frosts. Their soft yellow daisy flowers are truly lovely.

Just 4 of the many cuttings of Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’ marguerite

Number 3 are also Autumn sowings and these are the very healthy looking ridifolia or false fennel. This is a first and I am hoping they will look fresh and green in flower too.

Ridifolia sown in Autumn and potted on once

Caught again in that February indecision and the conflicting messages from experts, seed packets and books about what should and shouldn’t be sown. There is that nagging February anxiety that if I don’t do lots now it will be too late. There is also the clear memory of window sills crammed with tomato, aubergine and chilli plants, during last year’s late Spring and delayed Summer, which got bigger and bigger and finally a bit overwhelming as the greenhouse got fuller and the weather stayed obstinately cold.

But looking round the greenhouse, of course I have already planted more than I think. Number 4 are the germinating Broad Bean seeds elbowing their way out into the light.

Broad beans heading for the allotment when they can stand up for themselves

Number 5 are the almost as lusty seedlings of Cobea scandens which will add a touch of glamour to my fences this year.

By the end of the Summer these will be reaching for the sky

Last for this week’s Six are the Anenomes just coming in to flower in their crates. The first one, white and gently unfurling, is such a sign of optimism for Spring when it feels and sounds so much like Winter.

An optimistic splash of white sheltered inside.

While this Six has been sheltering inside, I am sure there will be many more Sixes out and about braving the elements. Just take a look over at the The Propagator’s blog

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January Colour

Seven months since the last blog post and it is Winter again. It is cold, but not barren; the garden is not just its bare bones – there are already hellebores, snowdrops and even an optimistic primrose or two in flower. The frosts knocks them down every so often, but so far they have just popped up later. All of them have been quietly doing my job for me: increasing their numbers from the one or two original plants and a sprinkling of bulbs in a dark corner to splashes of colour almost the length of the border . Not a label or a name to identify them by now, but they are very welcome in this obdurate month when the light lasts longer each day, but Spring isn’t even close.

Established, self seeded hellebores

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Six on Saturday

The busiest time of year in the garden and the busiest time of the year in my job. The wilting, erratically watered plants at the plot, allotment and around my house are only just hanging on. Last weekend’s blistering heat nearly saw them and my gardening mojo off. So no time for a Six then, or even worse to read many. Below is my quick Six for today while over at ThePropagator there will be many delights to explore.

Time poor and pressed, with the garden needing my concentrated attention, last weekend I spent my time doing something entirely different. I snuck off to read. A life long character flaw which refuses to be mended. But the pleasure of reading Allan Jenkins’ short book ‘Morning’ with its vivid and intensely evocative descriptions of his different gardening spaces in the early morning did have a positive outcome. I got up at dawn 3 mornings in a row and gained more than the extra hours.


Next is the first flower of the Jamaican primrose which grew from a cutting taken from Derry Watkins’ garden on a propagating course at Special Plants. Just managed to keep this alive through Winter before planting it. Am hoping the sun and warmth will cure its sickliness. If healthy it should grow to a metre high. Hope so – it’s lovely.

Jamaican primrose

Yesterday was another sneaking off – this time to the Spring Show at Malvern with all its temptations. One of the stall I seek out is Hardy’s. Its display is always beautiful with inspiration for unexpected plant combinations and there is always something new. Number 3 is just one of the display’s gold winning lovely sides:


Fourth is the delicate beauty of this aquilegia nestled in at the front of the Hardy’s display,


Fifth is another new plant to me at Avon Bulbs – a sparkling camassia, a deeper and darker blue than mine at home

Avon bulbs

camassia leichtlinii Maybelle

Difficult to know what to end on, but perhaps the free, self sown, lacy loveliness of orlaya grandiflora which opened up its flowers in my front garden this week.

orlaya grandiflora

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Six on Saturday

Back to cooler temperatures this week and, looking on the bright side, it has meant that the tulips have lasted a little longer. Rain has also granted a rest from the rescue watering of last weekend. Some of this Six’s pictures are taken from my warm and dry kitchen, but I did venture out for a few, before sheltering in the greenhouse.

Right outside my kitchen window, and now properly in leaf , are a collection of acers; some in pots and others in the ground  – all enjoying the shade. Those  we’ve planted seem to accommodate themselves to the clay too and are getting bigger every year though their names have long been forgotten.


Outside at the end of the garden and alongside the greenhouse there are some of my favourite tulips looking fine in a sea of blue – the forget me nots in their prime. The beautiful Ballerina comes back every year, but Angelique has surprised me by returning in healthy loveliness after being poor in its first year. Next autumn there is going to be a big splash out on tulip bulbs to ensure they pop throughout the entire spread of blue at the bottom of the garden. The random dark Queen of the Night look good too.


Next is inside the greenhouse and, carefully avoiding the leggy tomatoes and the slightly chewed chillies, the courgettes are looking robust and happy. Probably shouting out to be re potted, but being ignored for today.

courgette defender

Courgette Defender

Fourth, on the steps just outside the kitchen door, is a pretty viola bought from Special Plants; a gentler and pinker version of the Viola Corsica grown from seed in the Autumn. They are both lovely. So too is the simple (and edible) Viola Heartsease.


Then next is just one of the many healthy divisions of Centaurea Jordy which seem to be doing well in their pots.

scabiosa Jordy

And last of all, is this shot of my garden today from the kitchen window (washing line included). Last week’s star, the Amelanchier, lost its blossom overnight and has moved out of the spotlight for the carpet of blue.

back garden 2

Looking forward to looking at other Sixers’ highlights this weekend over at The Propagator’s blog.

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Propagating: sowing seeds

After years of fiddling around and too often failing, there are definite signs of improvement in my propagating. And so there should be considering the number of workshops attended and books read. Here, because it might save you time if you are starting off and I might forget, are the tips I have found useful over recent years.

First of all is the question of what to sow seeds in. At the start, I bought a whole stack of full sized seed trays. A mistake. These tempted me to scatter the whole surface with seeds. This meant ending up with far too many seedlings (if they all germinated) or wasting a whole packet of seed and time. Those trays also took lots of room which was precious when I only had a couple of cold frames. For me, even half a seed tray is usually too much and the quarter size ones are just about perfect for most seeds. I can fit four times as many in the same space and feed my seed sowing obsession by sowing many more varieties. For larger seeds, I use and reuse module trays; these are brilliant for pricking out small seedlings too.

The sowing medium is obviously key and despite all the advice about specialist seed compost I have resolutely stuck with peat free multi purpose compost. Now perlite or grit might be added, but the best choice for me over the last few years has been Silva Grow which is always on offer (5 bags for 4) at local builders merchant. It is light and well composted and I have never had a bad bag.

nasturtium Tip Top Mahogany

Nasturtium Tip Top growing happily in a module tray filled with Silva Grow peatfree compost

Filling the seed tray up to the top, tapping gently on a bench to remove air pockets and firming down the surface of compost has become a habit. Obviously, sowing seeds thinly to give them room is important and for me, with small seeds, still a work in progress. For years, after sowing the seeds I would cover them with a sprinkling of compost, but now a light dusting of vermiculite is usually how I top the tray off. Grit a la Carol Klein is very satisfying, but I don’t always have it.

In the past I would then drench the carefully sown seeds by watering them from the top with a watering can, but now the trays are put in a tray of water to soak up water and when the top looks damp they are taken out. At least that is the idea. Honestly lots are left too long, but it doesn’t usually matter. At least unintended heavy drops of water from a watering can rose doesn’t wash them away.

Also, in the past I would have forgotten the crucial stage of labelling, thinking I would remember. Of course I most often didn’t and would have to try to work out what was what from emerging leaves. White plastic labels seem to get everywhere, but they are an essential part of this process. Once they have been used up, I might try a non-plastic option, but for now reusing them as many times as possible has to be a good enough environmental compromise. And while pencil works, I prefer a permanent marker pen as it’s easier to read.

The courses last year offered many propagating tips which debunked popular gardening wisdom. The first one was that it isn’t always essential to wait for the seedling’s true leaves to appear before pricking out. Have tried this and  have been nicely amazed that it doesn’t seem to make any difference. The second was not to bother with hormone rooting powder and this is one I am experimenting with.

Seeds should be used up year on year and fresh bought in annually and keeping them in a sealed container in the fridge would be the ideal, but I don’t live alone and compromises on this front have to be made. It is surprising how many neglected and badly stored packets germinate cheerfully, but I would certainly avoid disappointment if I improved this part of the process.

No matter how often I sow seeds, the pleasure of seeing the first one in a tray push through the compost surface never gets stale. Nobody needs to tell me how lucky I am to have acquired a greenhouse, but I am genuinely surprised by how quickly it fills up.

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